Penn takes checkered flag at international racecar competition

Penn Electric Racing took home the gold at an international competition in mid-June.

Automotive engineering society SAE International hosts an annual series of racing events designed to spur creativity, innovation, and problem-solving in the next generation of engineering students. The Formula SAE competition, which pits custom-built, high-performance racecars against one another, brought in more than 100 teams this year, hailing from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, India, and Japan.

Gas-powered racers made up a majority of the field, but Penn’s team set out to show that an electric car could hold its own against them. The more than 30 student members are united by their desire to push the envelope of what an electric car can do, not only in terms of its environmental bona fides, but the qualities that make driving fun.

A high-speed test track is the perfect venue for such a synthesis.   

Even getting on the track is an accomplishment. Most of the 20 electric racing teams that came to the Lincoln, Neb., event, including fellow automotive engineering powerhouses like MIT and Carnegie Mellon, were disqualified during the event’s exacting technical inspections.

Last year, Penn’s submitted car, REV0, was met with that same fate. Drawing on the lessons learned there, the team put a year’s worth of fine-tuning into its successor, REV1. Beyond design upgrades in the shop, the team was able to do more rigorous field-testing of their vehicle this year. The opening of Pennovation Works allowed for extra practice space.  

Their hard work paid off; REV1 took first place among electrics overall, winning seven of the eight categories. These included overall design, cornering, endurance, and time-trials on a full racetrack. The acceleration test was a particularly strong suit; beyond taking first among electrics, REV1 would have beaten all but three of the gas-powered cars.      

“We had our fingers crossed, but we really didn’t need to. The car worked flawlessly,” says Andy Jackson, the team’s faculty adviser, at an impromptu ceremony marking the team’s return to campus.

Jackson, a professor of practice in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Applied Mechanics in the School of Engineering and Applied Science, stressed that his role on the team was merely an administrative one, and that the students did all of the work on the car. Not only are they involved in all aspects of its design, fabrication, and testing, but senior team members are also responsible for recruiting and training their successors.      

“This is an incredible learning experience for the students,” Jackson says. “Next year, we expect to be not only the clear winner among electric cars, but to beat most of the gasoline cars, too.”

Penn Electric Racing